Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
In the happy future, we will all have magical wardrobes and flying cars to take us to places like Narnia and Hogwarts. Until then, we'll have to rely on our imagination -- which, frankly, is sometimes not enough. That's why naughty adults have theme room motels, and the rest of us have Wizard Quest.
Wizard Quest creates a sword and sorcery world and packages it as a kind of fun house and scavenger hunt. "You'll be trying to find answers to questions to build up your magic," the kid at the cash register told us. "You only start with 100 glimmers and you need 200-250 to set each of the four wizards free."
If that explanation made absolutely no sense to you, then the rest of Wizard Quest won't, either. This is an attraction firmly planted in the fantasy game geek-o-sphere.
If you're one of those people who can't get enough D&D and WoW (or if you're under 13), Wizard Quest will seem perfectly natural.
You pay your admission and are handed a small card with riddles that must be answered, and a brochure with an affixed bar code label. Both are necessary to your success in Wizard Quest, and both are flimsy and subject to catastrophic damage as you crawl around in the dark (more about that in a minute). "We used to have bracelets," the cash register kid told us, referring to the brochures. "But we ran out." Bring a pocket protector and a penlight.
The door opens and you enter a Library to watch an introductory video. "Ah mortals, I knew you would come!" says a bearded wizard. "Here begins your adventure in the chamber of wisdom, where books speak volumes of misty history...." The paintings (video monitors in gilt frames) come to life as each of the four wizards begs, "Find Me! Release Me!" Then a second set of doors opens. "And so the quest begins! Come together through the swirling portal...."
You walk through a rotating, glowing fun house barrel and emerge onto a metal balcony overlooking a large room. As your eyes adjust to the dim light, you see a sparkly, turreted castle guarded by a unicorn with gold hoofs, fairies dangling from the ceiling, and lots of fake plants and rocks. There's a mirror maze that looks like an enchanted forest, kind of, and more video screens populated by fantasy folk.
Wizard Quest claims to occupy a labyrinthine 13,000 square feet, and much of it can only be reached by crawling or climbing or sliding along concealed passageways.
The attraction was filled with "questers" when we visited, most of them racing about trying to find the hidden answers to their riddles. Everyone at some point converges on Dragon Junction, a room filled with a mix of gargoyles, bar code readers, and office cubicle computer hardware.
The motivation for all of this frenetic activity is a 90-minute time limit, at which point you must have earned the required number of glimmers, or you don't get a discount in the Wizard Quest gift shop. If you've crumpled your bar code on a tube slide, or lost it in a secret tunnel, too bad. Those who don't care about the discount can stay as long as they like, or walk out the door whenever they want.
There's lots of earnestness among the participants at Wizard Quest. But it is only a bricks-and-mortar approximation of fantasy. The Real World intrudes. The animatronic dragon was out-of-service when we visited, and a couple of video pixies and dwarfs were fading, and one keyboard had already departed for the Undying Lands.
Which is all the more reason to get to Wizard Quest now. Maybe you'll feel embarrassed crawling through the Fire Realm ball pit without a ten-year-old in tow. But Wizard Quest is the Aquarena Springs or Enterprise Square USA of the moment -- one of those techno-cultural waypoints that you really should visit while it's here, or regret that you didn't after it's gone.